Making bold plans for the future tends to be the de facto course of action for most people this time of year. It's a time for big dreams, ambitious resolutions, and the optimistic approach to who we could be if we really put our collective noses to the grindstone. I used to be as avid a resolutioner as they come. However, I noticed my resolutions kept being left by the wayside as the year went on, leaving me basically where I was before. For the past couple of years I've decided to take a different approach as the calendar flips over to another new year. Instead of focusing on the future and breathless promises to be better, I've instead turned my gaze backwards. I call it the End of Year Review and here's how to do it.
Look at the Data
The whole point of the End of Year Review is to get a sense of where you've been and how you've changed over the past year. Unless you have an amazing memory you're going to have to rely on some secondary data sources. A couple of great places to begin are, your calendar, photographs, financial data, journals, articles, Instapaper archives, and anything else you track throughout the year. For me, that includes the titles and authors of every book I read this year as well as every single task I completed throughout the year (my task management software automatically archives them when I finish them). As you look at this data you're trying to answer some of the following questions:
- Where did I go?
- What did I do?
- What am I proud of?
- What am I ashamed of?
- Do any themes appear as I look across multiple data sources?
- What am I surprised by?
Looking through your calendar you'll see meetings you scheduled for projects that may or may not ever been finished, you'll see weekend trips to awesome places you may have forgotten about, you'll see conferences you attended and each of these will knock free thoughts/disappointments/ideas regarding the upcoming year. As you go through your photos from last year you'll see people you've righteously distanced yourself from as well as friendships you've let stagnate inadvertantly. As you look through a year of bank and credit card statements you may be struck by the amount of money you spent eating fast food or how much you spent on auto-renewing subscriptions you never use.
What do the answers to these questions tell you about how you should move forward in 2013? If you feel the urge to set resolutions -- go for it. If not, you can still make substantive change in your life. Too much of the time we get caught up in the optimism of the metaphorical blank slate that the new year offers. It's easy to let positive thinking run away with reality which leaves us dejected and frustrated before February has come and gone. The greatest predictor of how we will act in the future is how we have acted in the past. That may seem like a recipe for stagnation but if you embrace the mantra of fresh starts and modest changes then true change is possible.
Ground your future plans in your past and you'll be building from a point of strength and reality in 2013. Maybe that's not as fun as aiming to create the Ideal You that doesn't yet exist every new year but it's likely to result in a Better You that's just within reach.
A Look at My Year End Process
I conducted part of my End of Year Review publicly on my personal blog, process>product. You can see a five part series in which I look at 1) Where I Traveled and Major Events (with photo album), 2) The Books I Read, 3) My Current Favorite Things, 4) The Current State of My Software and 5) My Work. Not every End of Year Review will consist of all (or any) of these topics but the process of looking at my life in such detail has been enlightening.
What does your End of Year Review look like? Share a link with me via Twitter and I'd be more than happy to check it out.